A cancer survivor's advice: research, persistence and second opinions

Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

In the fall of 2022, Robin Clough and Dr. Gene Dorio were going about their lives as they had for many years, serving older adults in the Santa Clarita Valley. Clough was busy with her work as an administrator at the local senior center while Dorio, a house-call geriatrician, crisscrossed the valley visiting his patients.

In November of that year, Clough saw a lump on her neck and had it checked out. The early indication was that she had papillary thyroid cancer.

"I was somewhat worried," said Clough, but not overly so, because she knew that type of cancer was treatable and highly survivable. "So in the back of my mind it was like, 'Oh, I'm so lucky. ... It's the easiest type of cancer to take care of.'"

Then things took a sharp turn for the worse. "I noticed it growing a lot," Clough, 70, said of the lump. "I was having trouble speaking."

Surgery was scheduled. Dorio, 72, said it was expected to take about three hours to remove the tumor and half of Clough's thyroid gland. But the procedure dragged on. When the surgeon updated Dorio nine hours later, the news was grim. The tumor had spread through the thyroid gland, onto the carotid artery and into the tracheal rings.

"He told me it was all over the place," Dorio said.


Tests revealed that Clough had anaplastic thyroid cancer, a far more aggressive form than papillary.

We all know our fortunes can turn without much warning, especially as we age and the odds stack against us, raising the threat of our bodies gradually failing and our minds fading. But in just a couple of weeks, Clough and Dorio had gone from cruising through life to confronting death.

With her type of cancer, life expectancy is often measured in months rather than years. "It was so hard to process, and I think my mind stopped me from processing it because it's just too overwhelming," Clough said.

They'd fallen for each other about 20 years ago after each had been married and divorced. Dorio has a daughter named Janene. Clough has two daughters, Catie and Amy. The Dorio-Clough courtship and blending of the two families began with him giving her a flu shot at her senior center; then he had her on his local radio show, "The Senior Hour."


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